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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, July 12, 2007; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, July 12 at 2 p.m. ET to answer your personal tech questions and discuss his recent reviews.

A transcript follows.

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Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon! What can I tell you about today?

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Laurel: Great article today about an important development. I'm educated-guessing that the two most easily implementable cost-cutting strategies for an American laptop might be:

Use Linux, which has started to developed versions that are suitable to other than techno-geeks.

Would the type of memory built into an MP3 player work as the home of the OS for a full-functioning machine?

Rob Pegoraro: Here's a query about today's review of the Intel Classmate laptop. You're right to ask about the role of Linux in cutting costs--even with the usual volume-licensing discounts available to computer manufacturers, a copy of Windows will still add up to a major chunk of the cost of a $200 machine. (Intel wouldn't tell me exactly how much.)

To an operating system, flash memory is functionally indistinguishable from hard-drive memory. That's why all OSes will alternate between RAM and the hard disk to store data ("virtual memory"), and why some OSes also let you set up a "RAM disk" that you can boot off of (this was a common battery-conservation strategy on old Mac PowerBooks).

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Takoma Park: As a gov't employee, our computer are pretty locked down. We cannot open and install any .exe files or any other apps. except the basic stuff (shockwave, etc.)

But me and my contracting friends have had good success with installing apps on our flash drives at home and then dragging and dropping the entire application folder onto the desktop.

I personally have Mozilla, KMPlayer (the units have DVD players but no driver.) and WinRAR on my work computer. None of these could be installed from work. Just something for the gov't people out there.

Rob Pegoraro: Interesting. I'm not surprised that Mozilla Firefox can run "independently" off a USB keychain--there have been USB-portable versions of that for years--but hadn't heard about the other two working in this way.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Rob. Any word on when the new Motorola Q phone will be hitting VZW's shelves? I originally heard end of July. Hopefully, it will address the many quirks of the original, chief among them random power offs and the need to re-boot every other day.

Rob Pegoraro: No idea. Trying to predict when Verizon will offer a given phone can be a loser's game; the carrier takes longer to test hardware than anybody else (not that it still doesn't wind up shipping phones with issues--go ahead, ask my colleague Sam about his VzW Treo 700p!)

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Syosset, N.Y.: Rob...You are truly indispensable on a Thursday afternoon!

I have Verizon Wireless... I want a Blackberry Pearl.... VZW doesn't carry it. Why are VZW's phone selections so lousy? I contact them and they give a no-answer answer about when/if the Pearl or the Curve will come to VZW.

They have the best network which is why I won't switch to ATT for a Pearl or iPhone, but why are they so arrogant to not provide phones the consumer is clammering for? Can THEY hear ME now?

Rob Pegoraro: See my earlier answer.

At some point, the wireless carriers have GOT to recognize that their core competency isn't building handsets, it's running a network. If they'd just leave the phone hardware to somebody else--let customers buy any phone compatible with their network--they'd both simplify their job and have a lot of happier customers. But for now, we've got what I can only call an infantile business model.

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Laurel, Md.: Following mention in Help File, I tried out FileHippo Update Checker. One side benefit is that it flagged several programs that I didn't know were on my PC and that I have subsequently removed.

washingtonpost.com: Fast Forward's Help File

Rob Pegoraro: Glad to have helped!

It is kind of scary how much junk can accumulate on a PC, and how much that accumulation can slow the machine down. Every time I power up a new PC, I try to enjoy the new-computer smell, because in Windows it never seems to last too long.

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Strasburg: Hey Rob, I thought it was really interesting that they had Mandriva Linux on those Classmates. How did they decide which distro to put on it?

Rob Pegoraro: Good question, but I don't know the answer to it. (I would have gone with Ubuntu myself.)

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Fairfax, Va.: Rob, My wife and kids use one laptop. Occasionally and only when my daughter logs onto her account she gets an HP pop-up to register. We've registered and also clicked on the box that says don't remind me, but it still pops up periodically. Any ideas for how to stop this? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I've got an HP test machine at home--well, technically, it's under a layer of plastic sheeting while we're having some work done on a closet in that room--and will have to check this one out. This could be a good Help File topic.

Are you saying you still see the please-register nag only when she logs on, or also when you're using your regular account?

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Gaithersburg: Hi Rob, I loaded Parallels on my iMac and when I then tried to install Windows XP Home Edition, the screen grayed out as soon as I inserted the disc and a message said to restart. I restarted, but neither Parallels nor Windows XP did anything. I just had a normal desktop. What can I do?

Rob Pegoraro: If I were doing this chat at home, I could give you an exact answer--but without a Mac within reach, I've gotta do this from memory. What you need to do is choose a "Windows Express Installation," in which Parallels creates a virtual machine customized for XP and then walks the XP installer through the process. I've done that three or four times and never had a problem, but if you do things the hard way they can get complicated in a hurry.

(If you've ever tried installing Windows XP on a completely blank hard drive in a "real" PC, you'll find that's not too easy either.)

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Rockville, Md.: Rob, Why is Intel using Windows as the OS for the Classmate? Surely eliminating this cumbersome part of the package would lower cost and maintenance concerns. Intel should develop (or contract to a developer) its own software simply for the purposes of producing this computer. They need something like Google's online "Apps" but that don't necessarily rely on an Internet connection. When will these hardware manufacturers learn that they have more control over their products when they control both hardware and software. (Not to switch topics too wildly, but Apple seems to have mastered this principle.)

washingtonpost.com: Fast Forward: For the World's Poor Children, This Computes

Rob Pegoraro: I think you're right about the cost advantages of ditching Windows for an open-source alternative... though, actually, you didn't mention that as your own desired outcome. Being able to customize the operating system for the Classmate's dimensions and screen size would also help.

I think it's going to be interesting to see which version--Windows or Linux--sees more sales. Remember, the Linux version is not only free of software licensing costs, it also needs half as much flash-memory storage. Even if both those factors add up only to a $20 savings, that's still real money over a 5,000-machine purchase.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, thanks for this chat! It's a terrific resource for making we luddites computer-savvy!

Have you ever had any of your podcasts on iTunes appear to finish downloading, but then, when you go to play them, find that they cut off mid-podcast (i.e., a 40 min. podcast will download only 10 min.) I've been having this problem a lot lately, probably too often for it to be individual errors by each of the different podcast sources. I think it's the iTunes software. Is this a known problem, and is there a fix that I can do on my own, or is this something that Apple will (hopefully) fix on their end?

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't seen that happen myself, but I'm not that big of a podcast user. I'm only subscribed to two podcasts at the moment, and neither runs longer than 20 minutes.

Are there other iTunes users with this problem in the room today?

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Alexandria: Is there a simple way to get my video iPod to sync with my Google calendars? iTunes seesm to limit me to syncing with Outlook, and I haven't found an easy way to make outlook sync with Google, either.

Rob Pegoraro: The only "simple" way to get to your Google Calendar in Outlook is if you upgrade to Outlook 2007. Otherwise, you have to mix and match some third-party software--see this RHelp File item for the details.

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Alexandria, Va.: My wife and I do not own a cell phone. All cell phones seem to have horror stories about use, billing, quality, etc. Will "land line" numbers ever be used as cell phone numbers, if not, why not. What are we missing about not having a cell phone, except reminders to turn it off at the movies, hospitals, libraries, etc?

Rob Pegoraro: What are you missing by not having a cell phone? Boy... I'm not sure where to start!

What I can tell you, Alexandria, is that my cell phone has been one of the single most convenient devices I own, and I have a hard time imagining going about my daily business--much less doing my job--without it*. The horror stories you've heard are real, but most people get by fine with their phones. I think you're blowing that risk just a little out of proportion.

* Not that my wife and I can't still function without cell phones when we travel overseas.

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Fairfax, Va.: Re: the HP pop-up window. It happens when she logs onto her account from start-up or as a user switch.

Rob Pegoraro: OK. Let me see what I can find out.

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Richmond, Va.: To be fair to VZW, it must take a long time to figure out how to cripple Bluetooth on any given phone. If I had a billion dollars, I'd start a company that works via an existing network (like Virgin phones on Sprint's network) and sell fully capable handsets.

Rob Pegoraro: Well, I hope you get those billion dollars!

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Rockville: Rob, I've been half-researching higher-speed internet (even run-of-the-mill sites like my bank are now real slow on dial-up), and it looks like once you get past all the confusing bundle offers and introductory periods, it's pretty much $35-40/month for any of them. Is anything cheaper?

Rob Pegoraro: You can do much better than $35--Verizon's entry-level DSL runs only $15/month, and my understanding is that this rate can be renewed after the first year of the contract.

Trust me, you want to upgrade from dial-up.

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Adams Morgan: Couple of iTunes related questions:

I have been getting errors lately trying to burn my iTunes songs onto a CD. I often get an error at the end of the process and I end up having to throw away 2-3 CDs before I get an error-free CD. Any ideas why?

Also my 4G Nano takes a few tries to shut it off. Never goes off the first try or two. Is this common? Indicative of another problem?

Rob Pegoraro: Tell me the contents of that error message and I might have an idea :)

(Also, do you have problems burning CDs in other programs?)

What do you mean by "shut it off"? The iPod goes into standby mode automatically--there isn't any good reason to turn it off at all (which, if you feel compelled to do so, is accomplished by holding down the play/pause button for a few seconds).

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Tina in Falls Church: I am trying to troubleshoot for a friend. We were working in a Power Point template on her Acer WinXP machine. When she typed on the keyboard there was a lag time before the letters appeared in the pane. They were correct but it took a few seconds for them to appear. Ideas? I am going to have her check the cables to make sure they are tight but other ideas? She has a wired keyboard that came with the computer. She did replace her wired mouse with another cheapie wired one last week but she said she's used it since then without a problem. When I get that same thing it's my cordless mouse batteries but her's is wired. I tried to troubleshoot it on the net but I don't even know the word to use to describe the problem, "lag time"? Thanks, Tina

Rob Pegoraro: This is the first of two bizarre keyboard malfunctions people are reporting on this chat today. The only thing I can think is this: Does the Acer have any sort of funky drivers for the keyboard, or does it have a non-standard control panel to configure the keyboard's behavior? If so, shut off or uninstall those programs and let Windows talk directly to the keyboard.

Also, is this a USB keyboard or is Acer one of those living-in-the-past manufacturers who haven't yet realized that you don't need to use PS/2 ports anymore?

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Cell Phones: Please refer Mr. Anti-cell to

www.cellguru.net

which is a site run by an honest hobbyist (he does offer a few things for sale) comparing pre-paid programs. It's not hard these days to get 1,000 minutes and a year of service for $100, if all you need is the traditional telephone service.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the suggestion!

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Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: Periodically, when I turn on my computer from the hibernate state, my keyboard doesn't work. I need to reboot in order to get the keyboard to work again. The connection is tight. I even changed keyboards. Any ideas how to correct this problem?

Rob Pegoraro: And here's the second keyboard issue. Here, I'd suggest disabling hibernation and only having the machine go into standby mode (which uses only a watt or two extra but takes far less time to wake up from). You'd do that in the Power Options control panel, under the Hibernate tab.

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For Adams Morgan:"I have been getting errors lately trying to burn my iTunes songs onto a CD. I often get an error at the end of the process and I end up having to throw away 2-3 CDs before I get an error-free CD."

I've had that too (but not with iTunes). After the first one, I checked the CD and the songs were properly burned on the CD and it worked - both computer and CD player. Yes, there were some times when it was an error and things didn't work but more times than not, the error message is "in error" and the CD worked.

Rob Pegoraro: So the disc-burning app just coughed up a hairball when verifying the disc (a testing step after it's actually written the data to the CD and finalized it).

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Washington, D.C.: I was reading your article on Computers for children of poor countries. I am already involved with a school in India that could use computers. The cost for each computer is about $200. Since you wrote this article, I was wondering if there is any contact person that I can call to inquire more as to how this school in India can benefit. Thanks. Saroj

Rob Pegoraro: Best I can do at the moment is direct you to Intel's ClassmatePC.com site. Intel isn't selling directly to schools, however; it's only selling to distributors who then deal with educational ministries.

(The One Laptop Per Child project, meanwhile, is at laptop.org)

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4G iPod Nano: Rob, I've had the same problem Adams Morgan describes: my iPod Nano not shutting off when I press and hold the play/pause button. I find it sometimes helps to lock the iPod, wait a few seconds, unlock, and try again. Repeat as necessary. It is annoying. You're saying that if I lock my iPod and tuck it away in my gym bag, it will go off, though? That would be an easy solution, I guess!

Rob Pegoraro: Just lock the iPod--slide the little switch on the top so that it shows up orange--and it can't go off by itself. (But if it then refuses to go to sleep on its own, you do have a real problem.)

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wiredog: re: Keyboard delays. Check the system for viruses, trojans, etc. (Oh My!) now! Also, look to see if some shareware/freeware program is running.

That delay often is symptomatic of a system that's very low on resources. Memory full, processor utilization near 100 percent, etc. Check in task manager.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks! Good tip, although I hope neither of these folks has a keystroke logger on the computer.

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Reston 20190: Hi - re/ broadband options, ATT is having to offer $10/mo DSL in some places as a concession to the FCC. Google unadvertised ATT broadband. Don't know if the district, VA or MD are among the favored places though.

Rob Pegoraro: AT&T doesn't sell broadband anywhere near D.C.--AFAIK, it's limited to the landline-phone-service territory of the Baby Bell phone companies (SBC, PacBell, BellSouth) that merged and eventually bought the corpse of AT&T itself.

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Rockville Incrementalist: The $15/mo DSL from Verizon. Is that the one that's 768kb? Will that play a YouTube video?

Rob Pegoraro: Sure--YouTube clips aren't exactly high-definition!

The dirty little secret about broadband is that, once you get a connection faster than 500 kbps or so, there aren't any compelling streaming-media uses to require a faster connection.

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Fairafx, Va.: re: For Adams Morgan: "I have been getting errors lately trying to burn my iTunes songs onto a CD. I often get an error at the end of the process and I end up having to throw away 2-3 CDs before I get an error-free CD."

I also got errors in error and in different programs. I replaced the CD-DVD drive and my problems have seemed to disappear except when using Nero.

Rob Pegoraro: Stranger yet... replacing the drive itself should have cured the problems with every program.

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Woodley Park, Washington, D.C.: Hi, Rob. Can you help me out with an iBook running Panther that sporadically refuses to connect to an Airport Express that a G4 PowerMac running Tiger has no problem with? I get the cryptic "An Error Occurred Connecting to MyNetworkName" each time. Thanks much!

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't done any wireless networking in Panther in a while, but I don't remember things being that different. Are you sure you've got the latest firmware updates for your iBook's WiFi hardware? And the Network system-preference pane is set up to log onto that network automatically?

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hey, Rob - Could you give me a reason why I need to buy an iPod shuffle? I already have a 30 gig video iPod. But the shuffles are just so cute!! Help me out here!

Rob Pegoraro: I'd buy a shuffle to listen to while working out, or if I had a history of dropping electronic items onto floors. Otherwise--no, I don't think you *need* a second iPod.

(Not that half of the things we talk about here are matters of "need," per se...)

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Also my 4G Nano takes a few tries to shut it off. Never goes off the first try or two. Is this common? Indicative of another problem?: I've had this problem since I got my first iPod in October 2003 (I still have it, btw). It was also a problem on a "photo" iPod I bought in July 2005 and my current 1st gen 4GB nano. It doesn't seem to be anything Apple can fix. Every time I show it to someone, they say either it's not an issue because of the standby feature which kicks in a few minutes after you stop using it, or that I'm not pressing the buttons down correctly.

I have the "sleep" option on my home screen and even that doesn't seem to work 100 percent of the time. I think it's just a design flaw. I never seem to have this problem on other people's iPods I've tested, though.

Rob Pegoraro: There's another post like this from a guy in Houston. Not sure what I can tell y'all, though--I've never seen this problem on all of the iPods I've tested, nor on my own nano. You're telling me that you've asked a "Genius" in an Apple Store to shut off the iPod, said Genius has seen that it won't do that, and said Genius has said "it's not something we'll fix"?

Still might be easiest to let the iPod's auto-sleep function take care of things. I mean, you can stew over this or just enjoy an otherwise perfectly-functional iPod.

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Washington, D.C.: Has digital photography reached its peak? It seems we've seen the end of manufacturers 1-upping each other with more megapixels, and prices have vallied to rather affordable levels. Aside from advances in digital SLRs and storage methods for camcorders, there really haven't been any advances in digital photography in the past couple of years. Is there anywhere else we see digital photography go aside from progress in video capture and storage?

Rob Pegoraro: I wouldn't call it a peak, but I would call it a different phase in the market. All high-tech gadgets go through these phases:

1) Unavailable: They're only prototypes or experiments that techies geek out over in online postings.

2) Unaffordable: You can buy the thing, but it costs a few arms and legs. And it's obviously got room for improvement.

3) Unavoidable: Enough other companies jump into the market with similar products, prices drop and features improve, and eventually the gadget becomes a commodity.

Even commodities still see improvements, but they're more gradual and less dramatic than in the earlier phases.

I think digital photography is moving from 2 to 3. Resolution doesn't need to get any better--for snapshot use, at least--so manufacturers now have to compete by adding things like optical image stabilization and in-camera editing software (I'll probably do a column on this topic later this summer).

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Rob the Musical?: Rob, I enjoyed a recent musical performance about the iPhone by a tech-columnist-who-cannot-be named at a certain newspaper on the Hudson. Any chance we'll see you with a musical turn for the 2G iPhone? Or maybe you'll hold out for a legitimately new Treo.

Rob Pegoraro: You've obviously never heard me inflict my vocals on strangers in a karaoke bar :)

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Laptop Query: Not sure if this should be a question for a Security Fix chat, but my 1-yr old Toshiba laptop has been getting slower by the day. If I open 1 or 2 programs, it is down on its knees and if I try to run video, it crashes. Commercial virus scan/spyware softwares are detecting nothing. I want to reformat the harddrive and re-install XP. But, I didn't receive an XP installation CD when I purchased the laptop. Is there a way for me to accomplish my goal without having to purchase a new operating system? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: The Toshiba should have a system-restore partition on the hard drive, which you should be able to choose right after it boots up. (The Toshiba laptops that I've tried have all had a simple onscreen menu listing the different boot options--hard drive, recovery, CD or USB). Check the manual for the details.

Also, if you bought the laptop with only 512 MB of memory--much less 256--you don't have enough.

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Verizon DSL: Is it available everywhere? When I looked a year ago, it wasn't available in my neighborhood. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: No, it's still not available everywhere, and especially not farther out in the country. However, I can't find any towns named "Verizon DSL" near D.C.--where is your neighborhood?

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iTunes quandry: I finally figured out how to join tracks in ITunes when importing from CDs. What I still can't figure out is how to join tracks within my music library or playlists so that the joined tracks always play in the same order, even during shuffle play. The reason is for those annoying instances when producers inexplicably cut up songs into separate tracks (eg. Jimi Hendrix's "1983..." and "Moon, Turn the Tides..." which are the front and back of the same song from "Electric Ladyland"). Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: I don't think iTunes can join or splice tracks already in your library, but you could merge them using another audio-editing program. Or you could re-import just those songs as a single track, using the Join Tracks command you mentioned.

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Annapolis: I'm looking for advice on where to find non-geek-speak answers on how to fix a problem with my wireless network. My laptop tells me I'm connected, and the signal's strong, but when I try to bring up a web page (with either firefox or IE), I get "can't find the server." However, when I use another wireless network in my neighborhood, I'm fine. (and my desktop, connected via a cable, is fine). I've tried researching the problem on the web, but I can't understand most of the instructions past the first few steps, and I'm afraid of screwing it up even more.

Rob Pegoraro: Is the desktop connected via cable to the same wireless router the laptop is trying to connect to? If so, the problem has to be in the laptop's configuration.

My generic advice for a situation like this is to rip out whatever third-party WiFi software you have--all the ones I've tried have been more complicated than Windows' own software but haven't provided any useful additional features in return. Open Control Panel, select Network and Internet Connections, click Network Connections, right-click the icon for your wireless connection, and click the checkbox labeled something like "Let Windows manage this connection."

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Alexandria: I'm in the market for a PDA/phone device. Calendar and contacts that are createable/alterable on the fly with the ability to be synced are a must. I don't need a music player. Wifi would be nice, but not necessary. I'm not really interested in receiving e-mail to the device.

Would my best bet be to get a Treo and not use the wireless data capabilities? Can you get non-data plans for these types of phones

Rob Pegoraro: It is possible to get a Treo without data access--from some carriers. Like, I don't think Sprint requires that, but Verizon does. You could also buy an unlocked GSM Treo from Palm and use that with an existing AT&T or T-Mobile account, but the phone would cost a lot more that way.

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Boston: Any word on when the first service pack will be released for Vista? We're holding off upgrading to a new PC until Vista's bugs get fixed, but if a major fix is not due for a while, we might as well buy a new XP-based computer.

Rob Pegoraro: Not until sometime this fall at the earliest--and that estimate is really a guess.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Hi Rob, I always enjoy your columns/chats and thought I'd see if you could help answer some questions about the digital tv transition and shopping for new tvs.

Over the past years/decades of analog transmission, as cable became more prevalent and the source for the majority of tv viewers, it's seemed to me that the tuners in our analog tvs have been of lower quality. My old portable tv seems to get better over the airwaves reception with an antenna than my new, fancier analog TVs. Am I nuts or is this common?

Now, I understand that in the digital transmission realm, over the air reception is an either/or deal: you either get the channel or you don't. (My one Sharp HDTV bears this out and I watch a few channels digitally/in HD with a rabbit ear antenna but for other channels switch my input to the cable and watch the analog transmission....too cheap to upgrade to digital cable and give Comcast more money).

So, if I buy additional digital tuner TVs, do brands vary in their ability to receive a signal? Using the same antenna, for example, would one manufacturer's digital tuner get more channels than another so I would get less "signal strength is too weak" messages or is a digital tuner a digital tuner and they all receive equally?

If they do vary, any recommendation on brands/manufacturer's that tend to have the best over the air reception using an antenna?

Or, because of all of Pittsburgh's hills, am I going to have to bite the bullet and pay Comcast more if I want more channels in HD? Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Counting Down To the Digital Deadline| Bright and Clear Digitally -- Over the Air

Rob Pegoraro: I think you're right about analog tuners--manufacturers haven't had any great reason to work on the quality of those. Digital tuners also vary widely in quality: I've had great results with Panasonic, Sony and Samsung hardware, with LG slightly behind. But the Philips plasma TV I tried last year was terrible with off-air reception.

Pittsburgh certainly does have its hills, but your reception really depends on the location of the transmitters--check the AntennaWeb.org site. What I can tell you is that if you have mediocre analog reception, you can get excellent digital reception.

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Stanton Park, D.C.: Rob, what can you tell us about the project to hack the iPhone? I'd love to be able to get one, but I have something like 18 months left on my Verizon contract. If all goes as the project hopes, would I be able to use a hacked iPhone on the Verizon network, or would there still be issues with the phone format/protocol?

Rob Pegoraro: You'd not only have to hack the iPhone's software, you'd have to wire in different antenna circuitry--the iPhone has a GSM phone built in, but Verizon runs off CDMA.

In other words: Forget it.

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Maymont Park: Rob, Now that Steve Jobs has embraced a subscription business model (mobile phone users) is there ANY hope he'll ever offer the subscription -option- for iPods? We still have to use other services because we download over 50 songs a month, which would be way too expensive via iTunes.

Rob Pegoraro: I don't see Apple offering subscription music downloads. Instead, I suspect that we'll see movie rentals from iTunes--the business model makes a lot more sense that way, and I also see much more consumer interest.

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Louisville, Ky.: If I had a billion dollars, I'd buy a blimp!

Rob Pegoraro: That would be one blinged-out blimp, Louisville...

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Bethesda, Md.: I think we've settled on getting a Wii over the PS3 or XBox 360. Firstly I'm making the choice because my friends have one, and it's just great fun, and I gaming console I can see myself using at least a couple of times a week. I don't have any previous Nintendo systems, but I still have a PSOne and an XBox with a good assortment of games. I was considering the 360 because it was compatible with more of my older games. I also was thinking about the PS3 after the latest price slash and the fact that it looks like BluRay may win the HD format war (Blockbuster). Am I mistake by investing in the Wii, or should I pony up for one of the other two? I'm not a serious gamer, but I do like the multi-use aspects of the 360 and PS3.

Rob Pegoraro: The 360's compatibility with older Xbox games isn't perfect--but you could also just keep your existing Xbox around. (The Wii isn't that big on its own.)

I wouldn't let HD playback affect your decision either way. The Blu-Ray/HD DVD format war has a ways to run, and it may very well conclude with both formats losing out to movie downloads. Or maybe the mass market will decide that upconverted DVDs look good enough. I mean, look at what happened to SACD and DVD-Audio.

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Madison, Wis.: The chats are great Rob. Thanks for doing them.

Are 'upconverting' DVD players worth the extra cost over one that is just progressive scan? Do the players that upconvert to a HD format and hook up with a HDMI cable really look better on a HDTV than a progressive scan player hooked up with a component cable? Have you done any side by side comparisons with the same DVD and TV? Given the source material is 480i SD, can it really be improved that much?

Rob Pegoraro: It can help, although not all upconverting players offer the same quality. How big is your HDTV? If it's under 40 inches, you may not see much difference in practice.

Speaking of not seeing much difference, you may also not see much of a gap in price between regular and upconverting DVD players. It's becoming a standard feature, the same way that progressive-scan output and JPEG playback are now available on just about every player.

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NY: Rob - we're two of the last people in the world without cell phones. We've gotten along largely OK with office land lines. The only people we really need to talk to are each other. But we've finally come to the point where continuing not to have cell phones is not making sense, especially since I've had to say "I don't have a cell phone" dozens of times, being on the road over the last three weeks:

1. - I've begun to travel for my job, domestically, and in the near future to China (big cities and inland). While free WiFi suits me fine, its lack of prevalence (even around the Bay Area, except in Mountain View!) is worthless.

2. - I do side trips sometimes before/after a business trip and it "freaks out" family and friends when I'm out of contact completely. That, and when my car broke down on the highway, in a remote town, around midnight...

Lifestyle-wise: neither of us cares to be on the phone. We're hermits. We're not into carrying more things on our persons than necessary.

Style-wise: I don't derive any status/personal expression from gadgets. I prefer gadgets that don't scream cute or pander to my gender gratuitously. Hot pink Razr? Ugh. Also, I don't really buy into hype (when asked by others whether I'm buying an iPhone - them basing it on my yuppie demographic - I reflexively responded that I don't believe it's what it's cracked up to be). Being in the consumer electronics development business, I just don't feel the urge to go with first-gen. It also makes me extra-picky when it comes to gadgets.

He's very practical, too, but feels the pull of the iPhone. But, for security reasons, any transmitting device needs to be turned in while he's at work.

Both of us balk at the price of iPhone itself and the voice/data contract. Never having had phones before makes the plunge that much harder to make.

However, I've always had a PDA (still on my Palm TX) and would welcome a phone replacement to have that functionality, IF it does that job well enough. I also would use a good ebook reader and good web browser.

mp3-wise, I'm still on my 2G iPod that was a gift. I don't need convergence, unless a gadget does it well (no such thing exists, last I checked).

We don't care to take pictures on the go...our more than $1k dig. SLR is fine for the odd occasions.

So...it's either a plain phone with a dependable carrier, or a Smartphone that lives up to its name. My Tech Guru - show us the way. What should we get?

washingtonpost.com: Wireless Choice Is Far From Clear| Calling All Competition

Rob Pegoraro: Holy mackerel, a second "don't have a cell phone" post--*and* from somebody saying they work in the consumer-electronics biz. Unreal :)

I'd get a smartphone--not to use mobile-Web access or anything fancy like that, but because this way you'll have your contacts list right on the phone and you won't have to carry around a phone and a separate organizer.

I hear your annoyance about over-hyped technology, but there's no point in cutting yourself off from a useful gadget or service just because some other people are annoying in their use of it.

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Madison, Wis.: Regarding Annapolis' wireless problem, it may not be the computer software. Another possibility is the wireless router configuration. Some routers can be set to provide internet only to certain client machines and/or only at certain times of the day. I suggest the router configuration be checked.

Rob Pegoraro: Sure--but that shouldn't be the default configuration. (And if it is, the router manufacturer has some explaining to do!)

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Germantown, Md.: For Alexandria: I bought a used Verizon Treo 650 off Ebay and activated it with Verizon. They slapped a data plan on it (without telling me) but they took it off when I asked. Works great!

You do have to be careful not to accidentally activate the net access on the Treo, though, as Verizon -will- charge you for it a la carte. I solved this problem by setting up my default connection to be to my Bluetooth PC.

Rob Pegoraro: Interesting! Thanks for the post, Germantown...

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Chris (NY, NY): Hey Rob, I wrote in to the last chat to ask you about your favorite replacement earbuds for an i-pod. Since you've stuck with your apple earbuds, i had to learn by doing.

I bought a set of V-Moda Bass Freqs, which are a semi-in ear canal design. A LOT better and more comfortable than the default buds, but they give you a lot of bass, so much so that without using the bass reducer eq preset it's distracting. Still, for the Humpty Hump, they're really satisfying, For John Coltrane, not so much. They're only $30-$40.

My colleague bought a pair of Shure Ec3 full-in ear canal design for about $175. They're a pain to get in your ear canal, but with practice it gets easier. The sound quality is very, very good. Excellent for the Coltrane, can't produce the Humpty Hump bass, but there are a lot of songs where I've heard things I never heard over speakers or the earbuds. For example, I have to give a lot more credibility to Paul McCartney as a bassist after listening to Abbey Road on the Shures.

I listened to the Shure SE2C earphones at the Apple Store and they (from limited listening) give at least equal sound quality for a little less money (similar idea, newer model as compared to the Ec3s).

My colleague though, can't get a good seal on the Shures and isn't into having something jammed in her ear all day, so we're trying to find a good store at which to test actual headphones - we're hoping to hear some Grados, the SR60s are supposed to be a great value proposition at about $70.

At any rate, this is probably a long way of saying, on a personal note, that you should try something better than the default earbuds. On a professional note, I'd love to see an article where you review some ipod ear bud replacement options. There's a lot of choices out there and you could really provide your readership with quite a service.

Whatta you say? Pretty Please?

Rob Pegoraro: I think you've just outlined one good reason why I wouldn't want to do that--the in-ear kind won't fit everybody's ears. (Hmm, distasteful thought: What if the loaner headphones a manufacturer sends me spent the previous four weeks jammed in another reviewer's ear canals? Yuck.)

The other reason why I don't see this as a great story topic is that anything short of noise-cancelling headphones won't do anything about the biggest limit on iPod sound quality--the noise outside. (And Metro has nothing on the NYC subway in the department. Can you actually hear a difference on the train?)

(Does anybody else now have Digital Underground stuck in their heads now? I hope so...)

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Houston, Tex.: Go with the Wii, brother. It's like nothing else you've seen.

Plus there's probably a LIGHTSABER GAME coming for it later this year. Motion-sensitive LIGHTSABERS! Oh my.

Rob Pegoraro: Indeed...

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No cell phone either: And I'm not missing a thing.

Rob Pegoraro: Um, yes you are :)

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Frustrated in Lorton: Rob, I think you attempted answered this type question before but I have a Linksys WRT54G router set up at home w/Dell XPS400 tower w/XP Pro and Dell C600 laptop w/W2K hardwired to the router and another Dell C600 laptop w/W2K wireless. I can't get them to talk to each other. Now I have added a Western Digital 1TB External hard drive hardwired to the router as well. It came with MioNet to "connect" everyone but as I start to understand it, it is a web-based system. So if I want to move an 8GB DVD that I have legally ripped to that hard drive, it has to go out through the Internet straw at 2Mbps upload and 7Mbps download instead of the 100Mbps connection through the router. An 8GB movie takes two hours to "drag and drop"! Why can't I configure the router to have the XPS "talk" directly to the hard drive?

Rob Pegoraro: Networking different versions of Windows together can be trouble--but so can networking the same versions of Windows! (Seriously, Windows file sharing just sucks.)

The hard drive *ought* to be the easiest part of the equation--it's set up out of the box to share files over a local network, right? ("Web-based" doesn't mean you need to use the *World Wide* Web; it should mean that the drive has its own Web server built in, to which you'd navigate by typing the right address, most often a numeric Internet Protocol address.)

Check your firewall software, too. Use the stuff built into XP instead of third-party software... on the Win 2000 box, though, you're going to have to try changing settings until it does allow local-network traffic.

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Bethesda, Md.:4G nanos: I have the same problem where sometimes it won't shut off when I hold the Play/Pause button. It seemed to start in the wintertime, then less so now. A related problem that occurred around the same time period was the thing would skip around randomly when using the scroll wheel. These problems were most common using my iPod in my car. Due to the symptoms, the location and the time of year my guess is that both problems relate to static electricity.

Rob Pegoraro: We did have a discussion about static electricity and iPods here, back in February or March. I hadn't thought about that as a possible cause.

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Miami, Fla.: Looking to get a new PC in the next few months. I've been a PC person for a VERY long time, but the new Mac OS (Leopard) looks good. Should I stick with the tried and true Windows world, or go with a Mac? Also, I hear a rumor of a new iMac. Heard anything?

Rob Pegoraro: I'm seeing those new-iMac rumors also, and I think they're true. They make sense: The iMac hasn't been upgraded since the fall, and a new model would help with back-to-school sales.

You should seriously consider the Mac option--not least because even if you stick with Windows, you're going to have some non-trivial transition pain involved in moving to Windows Vista.

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Rockville, Md.: I recently upgraded my cell phone and service and I now have a Motorola RAZR V3. I found out that I can sync the phone with my computer (move pictures, create ringtones, etc.) but I can only do this after buying software from Motorola. What's next, HP saying "Thanks for buying our printer. To get it to work with your computer, you have to buy the driver from us." No question, just a vent.

Rob Pegoraro: Glad to publish your vent. It is insulting that phone manufacturers and wireless carriers treat address-book synchronization as some sort of optional, "upsell" feature.

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ArlVA: Hi Rob, Following up on your piece about photo websites: My wife and I would like to create a family website to post our pictures (preferably one that looks decent, with a user-friendly backend). Are you aware of any services that provide this? I don't like using Snapfish, etc. for displaying photos, especially because the pictures always look lousy and too small.

A friend told me Apple offers what I want, but I don't have a Mac. Should I just give up and use Flickr? Thanks for any suggestions!

washingtonpost.com: Faster Forward: Who's Tops In Photo Sharing?

Rob Pegoraro: I wouldn't use Flickr unless you're OK with paying $20/year for a Pro account. Take a look at Kodak's EasyShare site--especially if you already use Kodak's EasyShare software. Otherwise, try Google's Picasa Web Albums (which, unsurprisingly, pair well with Google's Picasa software).

Note that EasyShare requires you to buy something each year--even if it's just one 4-by-6 print--to keep your photos up, while Picasa doesn't require even that.

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Silver Spring: I am looking for a new TV. Something between 25"-32" inches. My question is, what is the deal with tuners? If I buy something without a built-in digital tuner, what am I getting myself into?

Rob Pegoraro: Obsolescence--as of Feb. 2009, you won't be able to get *any* broadcasts off the air. And even if you're happy with cable or satellite now, that doesn't mean that you might not one day move the set to a room without a cable/satellite jack. Get one with a digital tuner.

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Rob Pegoraro: That's gonna do it for today, gang. Thanks for keeping me as busy as ever... I'll be back here in a couple of weeks.

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